Mother Nature meets motherhood in The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future, a captivating story of damaged environments, our connections to them and the nature of healing.
Deep in rural Chile, the fish population has begun to die in the Cruces River.
At the same time, a woman emerges from the same river, muddy, gasping for air and clearly confused. It’s a mystery as to why Magdalena (Mia Maestro) has been resurrected as she’s been dead for decades at this point.
Magdalena finds her husband in some random electronics store as if she knew exactly where he would be and it causes him to have a severe heart attack. This all prompts the daughter, a successful surgeon in the city, Cecilia (Leonar Varela) and her daughters Thomas (Enzo Ferrada Rosati) and Alma (Laura Del Rio Rios) to return to the family dairy farm where her Brother Bernardo (Marcial Tagle) operates it for their aging father Enrique (Alfredo Castro).
Shortly after, the local bee population is wiped out and the farm’s entire herd of dairy cows fall ill and die not long after that. It’s a brutal reminder that we have mistreated our own planet for far too long and in many cases the damage is irreversible. But there is still plenty that can be rectified. The same can be applied to Family. It’s a delicate system, on a much more personal level that we often take for granted and when disruptions emerge, recurring or not, it can have lifelong effects on a person. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to find peace and healing but not always.
The world around the family continues to face severe damage and at the same time Madgelana’s return unravels the full complexity of what went so horribly wrong for this particular family and the way forward.
Magdalena ended her own life. She strapped herself onto her motorcycle and drove into a lake, drowning in it, leaving behind some nasty wounds that her children would have to carry with them for the rest of their lives. And so their familial ecosystem could never truly heal itself and recalibrate healthily.
We’re led to believe that Magdelana had some trouble fitting into her own family. She may have struggled as a mother and as a wife but you can’t blame her. I can’t even begin to understand the difficulties that come with these familial roles. But It wasn’t Magdelana’s fateful decision that caused the initial damage, it was the patriarch of the family, Enrique, who for years gaslit his wife pushing her to her absolute limits, that ultimately injured the family system.
Just like Man as in the Human race, has done some irreversible damage to Earth’s environment, Enrique completely failed his own family, causes some severe emotional wounds and now the consequences of his actions have resurfaced.
It sheds a brutal light on the past’s truth but Magdalenas return isn’t meant to be a full blown haunting of her shithead husband. It instead gives the family, including herself the precious opportunity to heal. She is introduced to the grandchildren she never met, reintroduced to her now adult children, and just her mere presence is enough to trigger severe anguish for her husband, who does seem to feel some remorse. She is even granted a subtle new lease on life detached from the familial system where she is able to experience her own life a little.
In the end, the opportunity to heal was a fruitful one. Nature is restored, the wildlife come back to life and some wounds have healed enough for the better. The family is able to seek and achieve some healing and peace from the mysterious return of their mother before she ventures back off into the unknown. The film comes to an optimistic conclusion and it presents the idea of a loved one’s resurrection as this deeply human but ethereal fantasy.
I just can’t help but be thoroughly fascinated by the delicate and complex ecologies the film is investigating here. The Nature around us and within us, our relationships to nature and one another and the stream of healing.
The grounded direction of Alegria takes us to rural Chile, a beautiful place that I’ve actually never been formally cinematically introduced to before. The cinematography and score fills the air with rich imagery and the magical sounds of nature. It asks you to listen to your world, in its time of hurt and in its time of healing. Both are equally as important. The same can be said about us and those that surround us. Listen both within yourself and to those who you cherish most.
Mia Maestro and Leonar Varela are the standouts of the film but don’t necessarily overshadow any other character, because the cast as a whole play such a crucial part of the film. It is meant to represent the familial system.
It’s an overstated phrase but The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future isn’t going to be for everyone. That was made clear by the little social traction the film has garnered online following its festival premiere. It’s definitely not one of Sundance 2022s reactionary crowd pleasers. This film tends to get a little too caught up in its own magical realism and it teeters heavily on the indie artsy side of the medium where the concept occasionally sinks into abstraction. But make no mistake, this is a far-reaching, timeless movie that will reach those who need it most, whether that’s during a festival like Sundance or years from now, I firmly believe it will stand the test of time and touch many people.
If you have ever experienced some deep hurt within your own family and let’s be honest who hasn’t, then I strongly recommend checking out The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future, it will move you in more ways than one. And if you come out of it also seeing the world around you in a new light that’s even better.
Second Sundance 2022 Film – Francisca Alegria’s feature length directorial debut.